διό καί Δίων ὁ ἐξ Ἀκαδημίας φιλοίνους καί φιλοπότας τούς Αἰγυπτίους γενέσθαι: εὑρεθῆναί τε βοήθημα παῤ αὐτοῖς ὥστε τούς διά πενίαν ἀποροῦντας οἴνου τόν ἐκ τῶν κριθῶν γενόμενον πίνειν: καί οὕτως ἥδεσθαι τούς τοῦτον προσφερομένους ὡς καί ᾁδειν καί πάντα ποιεῖν ὅσα τούς ἐξοίνους γινομένους.
And Dio the Academic said that the Egyptians are lovers of food and drink and that a manner was found among them so that those who have turned their back on wine because of poverty drink from barley [i.e. beer]. And thus they are pleased to bring themselves to sing, dance, and do all the things such as they are drunk with wine.
The context of this discussion is the diners’ dispute over the origins of wine. Greece? Olympia? Much like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop, “the world will never know.”
Clearly, the craft beer scene had not reached Egypt. No poor person can afford a $20 bomber of beer.
Regardless, this passage potentially reveals the stereotypical drinking habits for the different classes in Egypt. The question is: for which period? The evidence that we have shows that all classes in Egypt drank beer in the Pharaonic and seemingly also in the Ptolemaic periods; it was only in the 1st c. CE (after Dio) that a distinction in drinking habits is most pronounced (Nelson 2001, 225-227).
Anecdotally, I can support the second claim: that both wine and beer will cause drunkenness.
Athenaeus (ca. 2nd-3rd c. CE)
Dio of Alexandria (ca. 1st c. BCE)
Statesman and Academic philosopher from . . . Alexandria, Egypt.
Nelson, M. 2001. “Beer in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Ph.D. dissertation, U. of British Columbia.
“The Dawn of Civilization” wikimedia commons: via Flickr API